Postfire Downy Brome (Bromus tectorum) Invasion at High Elevations in Wyoming
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 January 2017
The invasive annual grass downy brome is the most ubiquitous weed in sagebrush systems of western North America. The center of invasion has largely been the Great Basin region, but there is an increasing abundance and distribution in the Rocky Mountain States. We evaluated postfire vegetation change using very large–scale aerial (VLSA) and near-earth imagery in an area where six different fires occurred over a 4-yr period at elevations ranging from 1,900 to over 2,700 m. The frequency of downy brome increased from 8% in 2003 to 44% in 2008 and downy brome canopy cover increased from < 1% in 2003 to 6% in 2008 across the entire study area. Principal component analyses of vegetation cover indicate a shift from plant communities characterized by high bare soil and forbs immediately postfire to communities with increasing downy brome cover with time after fire. The highest-elevation sampling area exhibited the least downy brome cover, but cover at some midelevation locations approached 100%. We postulate that the loss of ground-level shade beneath shrubs and conifers, accompanied by diminished perennial vegetative cover, created conditions suitable for downy brome establishment and dominance. Without a cost-effective means of landscape-scale downy brome control, and with infestation levels and climate warming increasing, we predict there will be continued encroachment of downy brome at higher elevations and latitudes where disturbance creates suitable conditions.
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